Finance Minister Bill Morneau sucker-punched Canadian business owners, and now Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc wants to finish fishermen off.
Mr. Morneau’s attempted seizure of retirement savings held by small business owners, farmers, doctors and lawyers is well-documented.
In a similar attack, Mr. LeBlanc is going after fishermen, many of whom have spent decades building retirement nest eggs from their investments in licences and vessels. In a speech this summer in Chester, N.S., Mr. LeBlanc said he wants to “bring our government’s support for the middle class to life through a progressive fisheries policy.”
In the name of helping middle-class Canadians, Mr. Morneau pledged to wipe out tax “loopholes” for a phantom group of allegedly wealthy business owners. In Chester, Mr. LeBlanc invented new bogeymen – “some fishers and companies devote inordinate resources to get around the rules.” He referred darkly to “circumventors” and the need to eliminate financial barriers to entry in the fishing industry. In a paternalistic tone, he threatened investigations with reports made to him "every two weeks". Translation: “I just might take away your fishing licence, your livelihood and your financial security. But if you’re co-operative, I’ll only knock down the value of your licence.”
Frighteningly, Mr. LeBlanc has specifically targeted one of the most-successful inshore fishing areas in Atlantic Canada – southwest Nova Scotia. “Fisheries licences have become over-valued in recent years, especially here in southwest Nova Scotia,” he said in Chester.
It may surprise the Minister that lobster licences (for instance) are more expensive in southwest Nova Scotia because they’re worth more. They’re worth more because the catch is worth more. The value of licences will decline if quality suffers, if markets weaken, and if the Canadian dollar strengthens. Market values always fluctuate, and do so more dramatically in resource industries.
Mr. LeBlanc should know the fishermen of “southwest Nova” are the driving force behind Canada’s most successful export fishery – East Coast lobster. Mr. LeBlanc’s own officials can tell him that lobster exports are worth about $1 billion a year. The largest proportion of the harvest comes from the area Mr. LeBlanc most wants to target.
For centuries, there has been a “sou’west Nova way” in the fishery. Fishermen from the area have been innovative and pioneering. In the age of sail, Nova Scotia Lunenburg fishermen made the perilous journey to the Grand Banks to catch cod. In the latter part of the 20th Century, scallop fishermen from the same area pioneered the use of satellite- mapping technology to deploy gear in a way that protects habitat in a sustainable fishery.
Today, the fishery in southern Nova Scotia is anything but broke, but Mr. LeBlanc wants to fix it anyway. He wants to create a fishery that puts social considerations ahead of the marketplace. That means putting people to work on vessels, and in fish plants, just long enough to qualify for Employment Insurance. It means sustaining the worst clichés about Atlantic Canadians, that we’re not that fond of work or making our own way.
Minister LeBlanc may also say he is changing licencing policy as a result of extensive consultations. This too is nonsense. The Parliamentary committee that reviewed the Fisheries Act in 2016 and early 2017 heard from friendly witnesses only – selected to insure they reflected the minister’s entrenched positions. (In the double-speak language of one DFO presentation, “the committee would not have time to hear from everyone.”)
In his Chester speech, Mr. LeBlanc refers to making changes that are “fundamental to your livelihoods". Such changes would disrupt family businesses and rob rural Nova Scotia of untold millions. And, shockingly, this would occur before meaningful consultations have been held.
On what planet does any of this make sense? Maybe on the same planet where Mr. Morneau lives.
Stephen Greene is a senator representing Halifax - the Citadel, Nova Scotia.
This article appeared in the September 26, 2017 edition of the Guardian.